Friday, October 11, 2013

Malala Yousafzai meets Obamas at White House

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have met Pakistani schoolgirl campaigner Malala Yousafzai in the Oval Office.
The Obamas thanked Malala, 16, who was shot in the head last year by the Taliban, for her "inspiring and passionate work" for girls' education. The Obama's 15-year-old daughter Malia also attended the meeting. The White House said the US celebrated Malala's courage and determination to promote girls' right to attend school. "As the First Lady has said, 'Investing in girls' education is the very best thing we can do, not just for our daughters and granddaughters, but for their families, their communities, and their countries'," the White House said in a statement. On Thursday, Malala was awarded the EU's Sakharov human rights prize. Although she had been tipped for the Nobel Peace Prize, on Friday that went to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal. A native of Pakistan's mountainous Swat Valley, Malala rose to prominence in 2009 after writing an anonymous blog for the BBC Urdu service about her life under Taliban rule and the lack of education for girls. Her name became internationally known after the Pakistan army pushed the Taliban out of the area in 2009. The Taliban's Islamist doctrine puts harsh restrictions on women's rights and one of the militants shot her last year as she was riding in a bus with school friends. After the attack, she was flown to the UK for medical treatment and now lives in Birmingham, where she is going to school.

Picture: Malala meets President Obamas at White House

Saudi blogger detained, but she's hopeful about campaign to allow women to drive

As a campaign for Saudi women to defy the driving ban in their country heats up, one of the country's leading female bloggers was detained in Riyadh on Thursday after a woman she was with did just that. Eman al-Nafjan, who tweets as Saudiwoman and has been one of the leading voices urging Saudi women to get behind the wheel on October 26, was in a car that was stopped by police in Riyadh, the capital, as she filmed another woman driving. Al-Nafjan, who has been calling on Saudi women to upload videos of themselves driving in different parts of the kingdom, spoke exclusively with CNN on Friday about what happened. "Yesterday, I kept getting called by women I know who wanted me to film them driving," she said, explaining how she spent most of the day filming and uploading information about those excursions online. "When I was live tweeting, some people took it into their heads that we had to be stopped," said al-Nafjan, "and then called the police." She was live tweeting as they were pulled over, posting a picture of the police car that had pulled alongside them, accompanied by the message, "Police stopped us." That tweet set off a flurry of concern and supportive messages from Twitter users throughout Saudi Arabia. Al-Nafjan initially felt queasy about being stopped, but her unease and worry quickly dissipated when she saw that "police were smiling and easygoing, and their attitude was very positive. The police were really nice to us." They were taken to the Olaya Police Station, where she and Azza, the woman who had driven her, waited. "The vibe I got was that they didn't know what to do with us. We could see the police going around, calling, waiting," explained al-Nafjan, who says she believes this is a sign that the driving campaign has gained momentum and that many in Saudi Arabia, including officials, think the time has come to allow women to drive. October 26 campaign Women who want Saudi Arabia to lift a de facto ban on their driving have launched an online campaign urging Saudi women to stage a demonstration by driving cars on October 26. "There is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so," reads part of an online petition on the website. Even though the website was reportedly blocked in Saudi Arabia shortly after its creation in late September, the petition has so far garnered more than 14,000 signatures. No traffic law specifically prohibits women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but religious edicts there are often interpreted to mean women are not allowed to operate a vehicle. CNN was unable to reach Saudi Arabia's Interior and Justice ministries for comment on the issue. Just a day before being stopped by police, al-Nafjan posted online another video she filmed of a woman driving for two hours throughout Riyadh. They were not stopped, and the video shows male drivers waving to the women and supporting them with the thumbs-up sign. That video quickly went viral, eliciting numerous comments. While most were supportive, there was also a negative reaction -- at one point, a hashtag was created calling for al-Nafjan's arrest. Al-Nafjan says her husband was also made to come to the police station Thursday. When al-Nafjan was finally told to come inside, she was asked if she knew that what she did was wrong. "I said it's not wrong," said al-Nafjan, who was then told to sign two documents: one stating that she would no longer get into a car with a woman driving, and another that she would no longer film women driving. When asked if she would adhere to those agreements, al-Nafjan said that "it doesn't matter whether or not I go out. This isn't about me. This is a people's movement. This is not about me. This is about many women." Al-Nafjan, who was in extremely high spirits while speaking via phone with CNN, said the experience with police ultimately bolstered her confidence in the movement she is helping spearhead. She said the lack of her arrest and her and Azza's quick release show that this campaign is making a difference and things are beginning to change.
Other challenges to driving ban
The issue of women driving in the conservative kingdom has long been contentious. And while such demonstrations are extremely rare, they have been staged at least twice before. In May 2011, prominent Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif was arrested after uploading a video to YouTube that showed her driving in Saudi Arabia. She spent more than a week in jail and quickly became a hero to numerous women in her country and across the Middle East. In a sign of just how influential she had grown, on June 17, 2011, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia, emboldened and inspired by al-Sharif's ordeal, participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign by getting behind the wheel, defying the ban and driving throughout the streets of their cities. In 1991, a group of 47 women protested the prohibition by driving through Riyadh. After being arrested, many were further punished by being banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces. Recently, a leading Saudi cleric made headlines when giving an interview in which he warned Saudi women that driving could cause damage to their ovaries -- a comment that was widely interpreted to be a reaction against the October 26 driving campaign and how popular it had grown. In addition to prohibiting driving, the country's strict and compulsory guardianship system also prevents women from opening bank accounts, working, traveling and going to school without the express permission of a male guardian. Saudi Arabia has been moving toward change under its current ruler, King Abdullah, who is considered a cautious reformer and proponent of women's rights. In January, he appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, the first time women had been chosen for the country's top consultative body. In 2011, he announced that women could run for office and vote in local elections in 2015. And in 2009, he appointed Saudi Arabia's first female Deputy Minister.

Syria extremists financed by private Gulf donors carried out mass killings – HRW

At least 190 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage by Syrian rebels financed by private Gulf donors in an August 4 military offensive in the Latakia governorate, according to a Human Rights Watch report. At least 67 of the victims executed had lived in government-aligned Alawite villages, HRW said in its report, “You Can Still See Their Blood,” released Friday, which saw the events as the first evidence of planned crimes against humanity perpetrated by opposition forces. The killings took place when President Bashar Assad’s forces were overwhelmed by the militants, who then proceeded to enter the 10 Alawite villages nearby, sometimes rounding up and executing entire families, while taking others hostage. Torture and decapitations were also testament to the aggravated nature of the military offensive, proof of which was gathered by HRW through reports, witness statements, hospital records and materials recorded by the rebels themselves. HRW’s Syria and Lebanon researcher, Lana Fakih, told Reuters that “homes were destroyed and burned. Most villagers had not returned.” She spoke to Hassan Shebli, whose elderly wife and disabled 23-year-old son were gunned down and buried next to his home, as he found upon his return to his village. The assailants took videos and posed with their victims before the killings. According to the human rights watchdog, the nature, scale and coordination of the abuses and killings elevate them to the status of crimes against humanity. Acting Middle East director at HRW, Joe Stork, explained that “these abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters…this operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.” The attacks were found to have been planned and carried out by five distinct groups, including the Al- Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as jihadists originating from outside Syria. However, the broader offensive, which lasted until August 18, was thought to include 20 distinct groups. The operation was thwarted by government forces on that day, after regaining control of the area. Although the report could not confirm the presence of fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, the force’s commander, Salim Idriss, posted a video a week after the Latakia attacks in which he claimed the FSA participated in the operation “to a great extent.” Other groups boasted about their exploits in their own recordings, used by HRW to corroborate its findings, although the rebels themselves also recounted the offensive to correspondents from Reuters, claiming to have killed about 200 people. However, not all the groups admitted to the killings. A member of the Sunni Ahrar al-Asham militia claimed that his fighters only shoot in self-defense, although the group was among the five that were found to have participated in the Latakia killings. The Syrian National Coalition’s spokesman, Khaled Saleh, also condemned the attacks and said that if any abuses by rebels associated with the coalition were found to have happened in Latakia, the perpetrators would be brought to justice. "We have previously committed ourselves to applying these rules on all the brigades that work for us and we will hold accountable, after investigation and fair trial, all those responsible for violations against human rights or international laws. The incidents in Latakia are not an exception and we will treat them as we treated previous case,” Saleh said in a written statement to Reuters.Nonetheless, dozens of witness accounts from the province remain, together with footage shot by rebels, as a gruesome reminder of the executions carried out on August 4. Returning residents reported finding the bodies of loved ones strewn around the streets, lying next to their homes, as well as charred corpses lying in mass graves. The organization also wished to point out that the report is by no means a move away from scrutinizing the Syrian government’s own human rights abuses – including sectarian cluster bombings of Sunni areas in May, as reported By UN officials. The report proposes that the UN Security Council imposes an embargo on supplying arms to all sides implicated in the systematic abuse of human rights and the carrying out of planned attacks, which is classified as a crime against humanity. The organization also proposed referring all transgressions to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Stork, HRW’s Middle East chief, said: “Syrian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity have waited too long for the Security Council to send a clear message that those responsible for horrible abuses will be held to account.” “The ICC referral is long overdue,” Stork said. The civil war, now in its third year, has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to UN estimates. Many experts fear that the sectarian nature and conflicting interests of the rebel groups involved are exacerbated by outside funding, and are turning Syria into a hotbed of extremism drifting further away from any resolution that outside actors may have planned for it.

Chemical weapons group calls Nobel Peace Prize 'great honor

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, says he hopes the group's efforts lead to greater peace in Syria.

Kerry in Afghanistan for urgent security talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan Friday for urgent talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an end of October deadline looms for completing a security deal that would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the NATO-led military mission next year.
Kerry's unannounced visit to Kabul comes as talks on the Bilateral Security Agreement have foundered over issues of Afghan sovereignty despite a year of negotiations. The U.S. wants a deal by the end of the month, but the discussions have stalled over Karzai's demand for American guarantees against future foreign intervention and U.S. demands for any post-2014 residual force to be able to conduct counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. U.S. officials insist they are optimistic about a deal but the continuing deadlock leaves it doubtful that any agreement will be reached by month's end. If no deal is signed there will be no U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014. Officials traveling with Kerry told reporters aboard the secretary's plane that the U.S. continues to believe the Oct. 31 deadline is "doable and desirable" and that failing to meet it would create significant problems. They said uncertainty caused by the lack of an agreement by the end of the month would make it more difficult to plan the next phases of withdrawal from Afghanistan and could erode the resolve of NATO allies that are considering leaving troops there for training. Without the United States on board, it is unlikely that NATO or any of its allies would keep troops in Afghanistan. Germany has already indicated it will not commit the 800 soldiers it has promised. "That's why we're pressing," said one of the officials traveling with Kerry. However, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview Kerry's discussions with Karzai, stressed that Kerry is not expecting to clinch an agreement during his visit. Instead, the trip, which Kerry and Karzai set up in an Oct. 5 phone call, is meant to build momentum for the negotiators who will continue their talks after Kerry departs, they said. The atmosphere surrounding the talks has been soured by recent angry and emotional comments from Karzai complaining about the conduct of NATO forces. Earlier this week, Karzai alleged that the U.S. and NATO inflicted suffering on the Afghan people and repeatedly violated his country's sovereignty. The comments drew a sharp response from NATO's secretary-general who recalled how much the alliance has bled in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,390 members of the NATO coalition have been killed since the U.S. invasion, which marked its 12th anniversary on Oct. 7. They include at least 2,146 members of the U.S. military. There currently are an estimated 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 Americans. The U.S. wants to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country to go after the remnants of al-Qaida, but if no agreement is signed, all U.S. troops would have to leave by Dec. 31, 2014. The agreement would give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after that date and also allow it to lease bases around the country. It would be an executive agreement and not a treaty, meaning the Senate would not have to ratify it. President Barack Obama told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he would consider keeping some American forces on the ground after the conflict formally ends next year, but acknowledged that doing so would require an agreement. He suggested that if no agreement can be reached, he would be comfortable with a full pullout of U.S. troops. Roughly 95 percent of the dozen-page agreement is complete and the rest is penciled in until the two sides can agree on language, U.S. officials say. The officials with Kerry said the positions of the two sides on the remaining issues are not incompatible. But they described the differences as "complex" and not easily overcome. Afghanistan wants American guarantees against future foreign intervention, a veiled reference to neighboring Pakistan. Afghanistan accuses its neighbor of harboring the Taliban and other extremists who enter Afghanistan and then cross back into Pakistan where they cannot be attacked by Afghan or U.S.-led international forces. The second sticking point is about the role and conduct of the counterterrorism force the U.S. wants to leave behind. Karzai has said the Afghan people cannot allow foreign troops to attack and kill Afghans on Afghan soil. Karzai is calling a meeting of Afghan tribal elders to advise him on whether to sign a security deal. But that conference will not be held until November, Afghan officials say. If they endorse the agreement, then Karzai has political cover to agree to it. He is keenly aware that previous leaders of his country historically have been punished for selling out to foreign interests and wants to make sure that any U.S.-Afghan agreement is not seen in that context. Karzai, who cannot run for a third term, is slated to step down at the end of next year -- the same time nearly all international troops are to have left the country. In addition to the security talks, Kerry will be seeking assurances from Karzai on preparations for the election to replace him, the officials said.

Pakistan: Getting aid to the Baloch

On September 24, 2013, a devastating earthquake, measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, struck Balochistan with full force. Since that day, more than 500 lives have been lost and hundreds of thousands have been left injured or displaced. In the long, hard history of this volatile province, this is probably the most trying time for its people. After more than two weeks, less than 50 percent of the people affected have received any form of aid. Given that much of the affected area is inaccessible by road and that relief efforts will take time and proper planning, there is still no satisfactory explanation for some of the decisions being made by the government. It has been decided that international aid agencies will not be allowed to enter the affected area to distribute relief goods and help in the rehabilitation efforts. What is the sense in this? The poor earthquake victims are stranded in the middle of nowhere awaiting any kind of assistance but none seems to be coming their way. From the very beginning of the crisis, the army, security forces and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) have been making tall claims of doing all they can to help the victims but that their efforts are being sabotaged by the insurgents. This is one version, but the reality on the ground is very different. There are fears of epidemics spreading due to the lack of clean drinking water, food, shelter or medicine. Even local NGOs are having their movements restricted and strictly watched and are not allowed to freely go into the affected areas. It seems someone just does not want the aid agencies, be they international or even local, to wander about and discover some harsh truths about Balochistan. Suspicion naturally falls on the paramilitary wing of the army, the Frontier Corps (FC), which has been accused of being a brute force in the province. Baloch leaders are quick to voice that the FC and security forces are using relief operations as a cover for their nefarious designs, i.e. fresh military operations. It is no surprise then that these leaders are refusing any help from the army, as these are the very forces they point towards as being responsible for the repression in Balochistan. The moment this disaster struck, the government should have done the needful. It should have declared a state of emergency and declared a unilateral ceasefire in the Balochistan conflict, with a simultaneous appeal to the insurgents to put aside all grievances and allow all manner of relief and rehabilitation efforts, whether local or international. A call to halt the fighting would have resulted in more people receiving the help they desperately need. What is happening to these blameless victims now is a crime against humanity. The state cannot just shrug off its responsibility for this debacle, which could have far reaching consequences.

Malala Yousafzai didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize. She didn't need to

By Louisa Peacock
Malala Yousafzai doesn't need a prize to confirm her status as a heroine, says Louisa Peacock, who asks what's next for the 16 year-old schoolgirl living in Birmingham.
At 16, Malala Yousafzai has done what many human rights campaigners can only dream of. She's cut through the jargon, the muddled rhetoric and unfortunate bureaucracy that can, sadly, so often be associated with a 'good cause', and managed to get people everywhere talking about one of the biggest issues facing young girls worldwide: their right to education. Malala may not have won a Nobel Peace Prize this morning, but does it really matter? The OPCW, the body overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical weapons gained the coveted prize in Oslo on Friday, disappointing many who believed Malala was a firm favourite to win. But Malala doesn't need a prize to confirm her as a heroine. Malala is already an inspiration for millions of children who would relish the chance to go to school. It is fitting that today, the same day as the Twittersphere and the world celebrates Malala's achievements despite her not winning the Peace Prize, is the United Nations' Day of the Girl. The second such day in its history, Day of the Girl is aimed at raising awareness of the very issues Malala has so bravely promoted. As Plan International, a charity aiming to get four million more girls in education around the world continues its work, Malala couldn't be more of a perfect poster child for it. Now a Birmingham schoolgirl herself, like any other pupil, she will have worries about homework, about settling into the new term (can you imagine being one of her classmates?). But Malala has brought to life some of the cold, hard facts about the plight of developing countries' girls that the Western world has become hardened to, even ignores. These include the denial of basic rights to girls, and the "invisibility" of girls in the global development agenda. Violence in schools, early marriage, pregnancy and housework continue to constitute significant barriers to girls’ education around the world. Every year, 10 million girls are forced or coerced to marry. One in three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18. Over 150 million girls are raped by the age of 18. All over the world poverty and discrimination continue to have a detrimental effect on girls’ attendance in school. Globally, one in five girls of lower secondary school age is out of school. But this is not just a 'women's issue'. An increase of only 1 per cent in girls secondary education would add 0.3 per cent to a country's GDP.

Bilawal Bhutto : Message of PPP Patron-in-Chief on International Day of Girl Child
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief of Pakistan People’s Party said no nation on earth has registered a genuine progress without educating their girls. On the eve of International Day of the Girl Child, he urged the educationists of Pakistan to come up with innovative ideas of educating Pakistani girl children to pull out the country from slough of perpetual illiteracy. In his message on the occasion of the International Day of Girl Child being observed on Friday under the aegis of United Nations, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said it is auspicious moment as this Day is coinciding with the announcement of Nobel Peace Prize where Pakistani girl heroine Malala Yousufzai is seen as hot-contender by the peace-loving world. Malala Yousufzai’s yearn for education to Pakistani girls will be remembered among the key foundations of a peaceful and developed Pakistan, when the dream comes true. Her vision, “One Child, One Teacher, One Book, & One Pen Can Change the World,” sends strong message across the world that education remains the key weapon to bring a lasting peace, progress and development. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stressed for adequate budget for education, especially for the girls in country as a mere 12 per cent literacy rate among girls and women in Pakistan makes its future bleak until some revolutionary steps are taken. PPP Patron-In-Chief further pointed out there was an urgent need for improving and extending education facilities for girls in rural areas and Federal and Provincial governments need to pay attention to safeguard the future of coming generations.

OPCW wins Nobel Peace Prize, but Malala wins hearts

Chemical weapons watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that the Peace Prize had been awarded to the OPCW for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. Despite being the favourite, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai did not win the prize but in the run-up to the announcement, the 16-year-old won the hearts of people around the world. Malala over the course of the last week appeared on several television channels and not only advocated her cause of education for all, but also projected a positive image of Pakistan. In a recent interview on CNN, Malala Yousafzai said she wanted to become the prime minister of Pakistan to cheers from the live audience. “I think it’s really good because through politics I can save my whole country.”
Malala Background
Malala Yousafzai first rose to prominence in 2009 when at the age of 11 she wrote a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling life under Taliban rule in the scenic valley of Swat. Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls denied an education by militants across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting local Taliban since 2007. When the army launched an offensive to oust the Taliban, Malala fled Swat with her family led by her father Ziauddin, school principal and himself a seasoned campaigner for education. After this difficult period she resumed her work promoting education, received the first national peace award from the Pakistani government and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize. But on October 9 last year the men with guns decided they could no longer tolerate the girl with a book and sent two hitmen to kill Malala on her school bus. The Pakistani Taliban claimed the attack and warned that any woman who stood up to them would suffer a similar fate. Incredibly she survived -- the bullet grazed her brain and travelled through her neck before lodging in her shoulder -- and as she lay fighting for life in hospital, Pakistan and the world united in horror. After surgery in Pakistan, Malala was flown for further treatment to Britain, where six days after the attack she woke up. "The first thing I thought was, 'Thank God I'm not dead.' But I had no idea where I was. I knew I was not in my homeland," Malala wrote in an autobiography published this week. Eventually she recovered enough to continue her studies at school in the central city of Birmingham, where her family moved to join her. There she learned to enjoy things one might expect of a British teenager -- TV shows like "Masterchef" and "Ugly Betty", fried chicken and cheesy potato snacks. But her determination to campaign for education, fired by her own mother's illiteracy, remains undiminished. In her speech given to the UN on her 16th birthday in July, Malala pledged herself to the fight for all children to go to school and said the Taliban attack would not silence her. "Nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born," she said. Time magazine has listed Malala as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and she has spoken of her desire to enter politics to change Pakistan and improve education. For now, she is concentrating on spreading the simple message she spelt out at the UN: "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world."
OPCW Background
The Hague-based OPCW was founded in 1997 to implement the Chemical Weapons
Convention signed on January 13, 1993.
Its work is currently in the spotlight, as it is supervising the dismantling of Syria's chemical arsenal and facilities by mid-2014 under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution. A team of around 30 OPCW arms experts and UN logistics and security personnel are on the ground in Syria and have started to destroy weapons production facilities, with footage of their work broadcast on Syrian television. The OPCW said on Tuesday it was sending a second wave of inspectors to bolster the disarmament mission in the war-ravaged nation.